Mere months after the Museum of Modern Art in New York announced it was to open an exhibition of classic video games, the V&A in London revealed that it had appointed a Game Designer in Residence: Sophia George. Is the medium finally reaching maturity?
Co-founder of Swallowtail Games and BAFTA award winner for her work on Tick Tock Toys on iOS; Sophia speaks to VoxelAracde about her particularly eventful and ground-breaking year and her vision for the medium as it continues to grow and evolve.
You’re clearly a very passionate, talented and committed developer, Sophia – and you’ve had an amazing year with the BAFTA award and with forming your own studio! If you could send a message back in time to younger self, sat playing games at home, what would it be?
I was a very nerdy child – and I was always worried about other children’s opinions of me. So, I would tell myself to not care about what others say and carry on with what you love.
Over this last generation, games have literally transformed themselves from bedroom hobby to mainstream, mobile and casual experience that has been accepted by both the public at large and the establishment. What factors do you think have contributed to this seismic transformation?
I actually don’t think that there has been a sudden shift, but a gradual one. Over the years there have always been those games that more casual players have been drawn towards such as solitaire, which was seen being played in offices everywhere, through to games like the DDR, and the EyeToy, followed of course by the Wii and DS. Now with smartphones so commonly available there is a very low entry barrier for entry for people willing to play games, whereas before, consoles and peripherals were (and still are) very expensive.
Sophie George (in red) with the Swallowtail team (partially in kilt)
The Museum of Modern Art in New York recently opened an exhibition featuring classic games such as Pac Man and Portal – and the V&A in London has just appointed your good self as their game designer in residence. Is the medium finally receiving the artistic recognition it deserves or is there still a long way to go?
I definitely think that games are a long way off being truly accepted as an artform, but I think that a great deal of the effort needs to come from the people making the games themselves, as well as publishers. Most games that reach the public eye are primarily marketed towards young males, and until there are more successful games aimed at more diverse audiences, we can’t expect the general public to accept games as an artform.
Apart from its relative youth, do you think that perhaps the multi-disciplined nature of the medium has held it back, somehow, from being more widely accepted in the arts world before now? A game, for example, can contain elements of many different artistic mediums, each one being culturally accepted and praised – yet ‘the whole’ has been largely frowned upon by many.
I suppose that people don’t realise that game development is an artistic process, due to the often assumed notion that games are made by geeks and nerds, not talented creatives! A lot of people – especially older generations – are predisposed to dislike technology, and I think this has a great deal to do with why games are not considered an artform.
Tick Tock Toys: a delightful little iOS puzzler about toys. That tick.
Over the last decade, the BAFTAs have played a huge role in raising the profile of the medium and you indeed received one this year for your work on Tick Tock Toys. Given your inside knowledge of BAFTA, what can you tell us about their faith and belief in the medium and their vision for it going forwards?
Although I cannot speak for BAFTA as a whole, they are very dedicated to games and their growth. As well as running the BAFTA Games Awards, they also run a competition for young people called BAFTA Young Game Designers in addition to a vast amount of games events throughout the year in London, including Q&A sessions with developers. BAFTA’s involvement with games has been great for the industry.
Given the distinctly male-oriented heritage of the hobby and the industry and the continuing issues surrounding the portrayal of women in games, many women, such as yourself, have made a truly positive and powerful impact upon the medium. Although it still has a long way to go, what factors do feel have helped to drive this positive change – arguably against the tide?
I think through the internet and social media, women (as well as men) have had a voice to address their concerns with gender portrayal. I do think that the industry has a long way to go – there are actually less women in game development now than a few years ago!
BAFTA: keeping a watchful eye socket on games …
Looking at the types of games available, action and violence clearly dominate the landscape. It could be argued that much of this is due to the male-oriented nature of the market and the industry more broadly. What will the world of games look like when the gender representation has reached a much more healthy balance just as it has in other arts.
We would definitely see some very different types of games – perhaps even new genres! Some television studies have shown that women tend to prefer shows about social situations, and dislike violence, so perhaps there would be more games about people and relationships.
As a games developer, it must become increasingly hard to find the time to relax and enjoy playing games! How can developers guard against this and ‘keep the fires burning’, so to speak. Is there the risk that developers may lose touch with the very thing that they love?
I completely agree. I have spoken to many developers that say they no longer have the time to play games due to other commitments such as raising a family. But I do think you should try and find the time to play games when you can, as it is important to stay up to date with market trends, and experience the medium as it grows and changes.
A woman in games that we’re long overdue seeing more of.
When you do find the time to relax with a good game, what do you like to play? What do you feel have been the best games of the last generation and why?
Personally, I really like to play games with my friends when I have the time. I’ve spent a lot of this gen at college and university, and as a result I’ve spent a lot of time with local multiplayer games, such as Monster Hunter, Mario Kart, Smash Bros and Halo.
As we approach the next console generation, what development would like to see? in the games themselves, but also in the industry more widely?
As game creation is being more accessible through tools such as Gamemaker and Gamesalad, I am keen to see more different types of people making games. I think this would result in some very unique experiences. I would also like to see developers take more risks with narrative and storytelling.